How Leadership is Really About Influence, Not Position or Authority

It is worth remembering from time to time that actual leadership is about influence. In large organizations it is still too often associated with position and hierarchy; and even more with formal authority levels. In reality, actual leadership shows in transverse situations where influence is key to get things done.

This is a particularly difficult issue because leadership is nowadays often an important source of value creation (creating new processes or products is always down to a transverse effort, often not formally framed), therefore, leadership capabilities should lead to higher compensation. However, as a skill it is difficult to measure and recognize.

I am often involved as a consultant in the definition of ‘influence’ positions where people monitor some progress, but are not formally in charge. This is typical for example of project manager or package managers which have to see that all the required elements will converge, but have no formal authority over all the contributors. Those positions require a lot of leadership and inter-personal communication capabilities. Yet they almost always fail to be recognized to their value by organizations, because they are transverse, and the skills required are distinct from a functional development trajectory.

At the end of the day, real leadership is about influence, and not about formal authority. It is about achieving things. Let us not be influenced by immediate recognition or authority. Being a leader is something of an internal calling, and the achievements brought by it are what count.